Phoenix gets PBA playoffs bonus, eyes strong finish to eliminations

Phoenix gets PBA playoffs bonus, eyes strong finish to eliminations


Phoenix Fuel Masters' Tyler Tio in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.

Phoenix Fuel Masters’ Tyler Tio in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. –MARLO CUETO/

Jubilant screams were heard from inside the Phoenix locker room after the Fuel Masters were told that they had officially secured the twice-to-beat advantage in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinals.

But even if it had defied expectations of getting the unlikely bonus going into the playoffs, Phoenix’s longest-tenured player, and one of the keys in Wednesday’s 93-83 win over Meralco at Smart Araneta Coliseum, wants the youth-laden squad to aspire for bigger things.

“We’re doing good now, but I hope we can sustain it,” team captain RJ Jazul said in Filipino after the Fuel Masters climbed to 8-2 (win-loss) with a game to spare.

Phoenix battles the TNT Tropang Giga on Sunday at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, with the first part of its mission already complete.

Jazul, whose three-point shot with over a minute left gave his team a cushion after Meralco closed in at 88-83, and Phoenix may have the luxury of easing on the gas pedal before going all out again in the quarterfinals.

But the veteran guard warned that doing so may put the Fuel Masters on a slippery slope and kill whatever momentum they have gained throughout the campaign where many expected them to be somewhere at the bottom half of the playoffs hunters.

“Even though we already have the twice-to-beat advantage, we want to end the eliminations on a winning note,” said Jazul. “We can’t afford to relax because we want to have a winning momentum instead of having that bitter feeling of losing going into the playoffs.”

On its toes

Phoenix coach Jamike Jarin PBA

Phoenix coach Jamike Jarin. –MARLO CUETO

Coach Jamike Jarin also cited the need for the team to be on its toes since the result against TNT could put Phoenix at No. 2 and fix the team a date with No. 7 Rain or Shine or down at No. 4 and in a precarious situation against the No. 5 seed, traditionally the toughest team outside the twice-to-beat bonus owners.

“We’re in a blind right now because we don’t know who we’re gonna match up with and play in the playoffs,” said Jarin.

Phoenix nailed the quarterfinal bonus for the first time since the 2020 Philippine Cup bubble when it went all the way to the semifinals behind Calvin Abueva, Matthew Wright, Justin Chua, Jason Perkins and Jazul under coach Topex Robinson, before enduring a downhill turn in the next five conferences.

Much of Phoenix’s success has been credited to the play of import Johnathan Williams III, who finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and a rejuvenated Perkins, the topscorer against Meralco with 22 points.

Phoenix got a key contribution from sophomore guard Tyler Tio, the player of the game who finished with 15.

The loss put Meralco in a dangerous situation with a 7-3 record and a game left against Terrafirma on Friday.

Meralco’s other hope is for San Miguel Beer or Barangay Ginebra, also holding similar records, to slip up in their final matches this week to sneak into a twice-to-beat slot since the Bolts are behind in the tiebreaker scenarios.

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San Miguel has Blackwater on Friday while Ginebra battles NLEX the following day in Legazpi City.


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